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Study: In Marriage, Is it Better to Be Right Than Happy?

Study examines whether it's better to be happy or right in marriage
Photograph by Getty Images/Fuse

A New Zealand man was recently asked to do what some might consider the unthinkable for the sake of research: agree with everything his wife said—no matter what. In the meantime, his wife was blissfully unaware of her husband's end of the bargain; she was merely asked to record her quality of life score each day on a scale from 1 to 10.

Sound like your dream scenario? It was all part of an experiment at the University of Auckland, to get at the heart of marital arguments and see whether or not we'd really like to be more "right" than "happy" in a relationship. After all, marriage counselors typically urge couples to settle marital tensions by weighing the pros and cons before pushing an issue, and not insist on being right all the time. But here's the kicker: the whole thing had to be called off in a mere 12 days, because the husband–who originally told researchers he'd rather be more happy than right—was so stressed out by the whole thing.

According to Time, the man broke down one day, poured his wife a cup of tea, and spilled all the details about what he'd been doing as his part of the study. (Boy, would we have liked to be a fly on that wall.)

Despite foiling the researcher's plans, the couple's 12-day run did provide them with some cold, hard data. In a nutshell? It's pretty clear that we all just want to be right. Or at least, be right when we really think we're right, and—this is key—get due credit for it. Over the 12-day period, the man's quality of life scores fell from a 7 to a 3, whereas his wife's actually rose (albeit it ever-so-slightly) from an 8 to an 8.5. And while you might be surprised his wife wasn't super happy getting her way for 12 days straight, research found that the more she was deemed "right" the more critical she became of her husband's behavior. But this wasn't such a surprise; it only further proved the theory that when handed more power, a person assumes the "alpha" position in a relationship or group setting.

Unfortunately, though, researchers really have to go back to the well on this one, to draw some more concrete data. They hope to do so with couples who are willing to stick it out a bit longer.

“This was a genuine piece of research where we hoped that both parties would be happy as part of one person agreeing with everything the other said,” said the study’s chief author Dr. Bruce Arroll. “We thought that we would find a method of creating marital bliss (and probably a Nobel prize if we had succeeded).”

(As Time points out, it seems Dr. Arroll has more than a slight sense of humor about the whole thing.)

Do you think you could withstand a 12-day experiment if you were the one asked to always agree with your partner?

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